We’ve just had a nice little lunch rush- not the kind that makes you want to tear out your hair. The other kind. The good kind. The kind that reminds you, that people actually like the space. People want to come. They enjoy their experience… they felt happy. I glance around as I clean up a few tables, noticing the increasing instability of one of the chairs and remind myself for the 100th time we really need to replace it, and I think to myself, “Wow. This is working.”
I know how some of my favorite public spaces make me feel. Invited. Relaxed. Productive. As I recall some of the pretty significant events that have occurred in our tiny space over the past 2 years- friendships forming, business meetings, intense talks, even a marriage (for real)- I take a long, deep, pleasurable pause in the feelings of vulnerability that normally floods my brain and revel in the fact that people may feel that way here. People may feel like this is their favorite space. I can’t identify why that makes me feel such a deep, peaceful joy, but it does. It really does.
I would love to say that the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity have faded, but the reality is, I’m pretty sure they never will. They aren’t really the same as when we started- perhaps they’ve evolved into worries a bit more grounded in reality, but they are still there nonetheless. For me, owning a business produces manic experiences and extraordinarily polarized emotions- on the one end I feel positive, contributing to something greater… and on the other always feeling as if I have so much more to do- more to give to be where we “should be”. Those “should be’s” can be really dangerous because when it comes to achieving goals, a focus is a key element. “Shoulds” lead you down the path of wasted, shotgun energy… the kind that sprays everywhere but doesn’t really accomplish anything.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received, yet rarely manage to follow is a simple dictum; “Don’t should on yourself.” I tend to dwell in the land of “Should”, evidenced by my obsessive-compulsive tendencies to delve into my own thoughts of ambition and future goals instead of existing in the realm of the now. I constantly have to fight going down the rabbit hole of the next thing, the new project. In my defense, however, I do think this is the plight of most entrepreneurs. Sometimes the creative energy just wants to take you, but I find it’s a dangerous and often empty pursuit if you fail to funnel that energy into something narrow like a goal you need to meet for next month’s sales or a project that actually contributes to your overall vision. Business goals are like a garden- they need a lot of attention, and half the battle is pulling out the stuff you don’t want that can kill the plants you do. Those invasive weeds that can grow in the sternest of conditions and before you know it, your once stunning day lilies are overcome with some giant, leafy, deeply rooted thing of mammoth proportions that you have to spend a day’s worth of energy pulling out.
Business dreams can easily become riddled with lack of direction and focus because of all the thoughts that can easily plague an owner. Without an intentional anchor to bring you back down to Earth, to keep you focused, you can spend a lot of time spinning your wheels. Mine’s Casey, my partner, and a few really good friends who I can always rely on to tell me the truth. Most people won’t do that. Today, I’m going to try. Here’s the lowdown on what business owners are really doing to keep up that productive, helpful focus, and how to stay on track if you’ve got some goals that need achieving!
- Show up. Bring your A game every day. There are going to be so many problems to overcome in every day- it can be super draining! You’ve really got to come with the energy it takes to navigate whatever life is going to throw at you that day. You’ve got to EXPECT the problems… but problems are typically easily solved. If you’ve shown up for your day with that level of expectation, problem-solving becomes the norm. Instead of your brain taking you to the worst case scenario, instead of listing all the “problems” of your day, you begin to realize you can handle it. Part of being an owner is being creative and brave- and that’s all you need to do a little problem-solving! You’ve got to be brave enough to face the problem, and creative enough to solve it. Before you know it, you’re past it, and you’ve just gained a wealth of knowledge and experience.
- Be direct with the people you’ve entrusted to share the burden and benefits of your business. Dude, I am a people pleaser to the fifth degree. I am ALL ABOUT that pleasin! But, just keeping it on the real, you’ve got to find a way to just tell people the truth. IT SUCKS. BUT, it is so productive! Before you know it, you’ve cut through the bullshit, and you’re on the path to having real, raw beneficial business relationships- the kind that yields amazing and mutually beneficial experiences, boosts productivity, supports positive energy, and makes your life as an owner amazing. If the honesty isn’t there in a working relationship or it can’t get there, it’s probably not the best relationship to maintain. Invest in the people with whom you can be honest and who can be honest with you.
- Walk away when something isn’t working. I’m not talking about your dream here. I’m talking about the thing that you’ve obsessively been making to fit your scheme that JUST. IS.NOT. FITTING. You know exactly what I’m talking about! One of my only life motto’s is you can’t fit a round peg into a square hole. So, let go of that thing that you’re trying to make work, but just isn’t working… it’s holding you back. You might even want to consider why you’re hanging onto it. Are you scared of what lay ahead without that crutch? Let it go, and watch yourself soar into a realm of new possibility.
- Fight for your kid. There are going to be days when your business is going to get bullied. Sometimes you have to step up to the plate and do a little fighting. The reality is, we live in a world where people aren’t going to fight for your best interests or the interests of your business (unless it benefits them). IT’S YOUR JOB. You’ve got to do that fighting! Know when it’s time to put on the gloves. If you feel like your business is going to take a hit because of another’s irresponsibility or lack of commitment to their commitments to you- you’re going to have to ask them directly to get the job done. I feel like as women, we avoid this one. Not always, and not all women, but I straight up did not feel comfortable having some of the conversations I’ve had to have with older males since I’ve become an owner. But if you or your business is getting taken advantage of, you’ve got to step it up and lay down the law. Bullies can usually only bully when you allow them to.
- Have healthy relationships. I’m going to say this one again because it really may be the most important of all. Have healthy relationships! So often when we are on a path of building or achievement, we narrowly pursue our success in a way that often cuts people out or puts them in the back seat. As important as I believe goal-setting and goal-achieving are, they are pretty pointless without a community with which to experience love, joy, sadness, and disappointment because let me tell you- YOU WILL EXPERIENCE SO MANY THINGS on your road to achieving your goals. Sometimes, your achievement seems like the ONLY thing, the most important thing. Reality check- it’s not. It’s the people around you dude! It’s love. I mean, how many times do we have to experience versions of Mr. Scruge to realize money, power, material crap- it all takes a second place to the deep-down needs of our humanity… which is belonging. If you can’t recognize that all this achievement is also attached for your need to belong to something bigger than yourself, then you probably aren’t really going to enjoy anything I have to say… so sorry about that. But I like to keep it real! (yes. I will say this a lot.)
- Have things you enjoy outside of your business. Me? I’m a teacher. My husband and partner, he’s a musician. We aren’t defined by being “owners”. In fact, we’re sitting on the deck we built this summer right now- he’s playing his mandolin. This puppy is sitting in my lap. I’m drinking some wine. Some of the things outside of your business are just more responsibilities, but make sure you’re catching the part where I said: “things you enjoy.” Do I enjoy being an owner? For sure! But, much like #5, I’m a firm believer in getting in touch with what your humanity really needs. Also, it really helps to get out of your “achieving” head-space in order to come back to your business goals with renewal, freshness, and perspective. Rest, time away, and distance do that. I mean, you can’t appreciate a Monet with your nose to- you’ve got to step back for the picture to reveal itself.
- Failure is an opportunity. This is not a cliche. I promise. I almost wish I could just destroy the word “failure” in my own linguistic category. For so long, I’ve associated this word with worthlessness, fear… all the negative crap that holds us back. Failure is a necessity. Let’s try saying it this way- We need the process. We need the process! The process includes things not working out, right?! Scientific inquiry, building projects, piano practice… all these creative things encapsulate a process where we have to fail in order to succeed. So, allow yourself to be a novice- jump into your goal, and realize that the first few steps HAVE to include failure so you can gain the experience you need to move forward.
- Be Relentless and Indulge continued dreaming. Every day really is another opportunity to creatively expand your dreams. I remember when I was in grad school a really good friend of mine was starting her Ph.D. We spent a lot of time at the local coffee shops having deep talks. Something that came up a lot was the fact that Theo “knew plenty of daft people that achieved a Ph.D. They were just annoyingly persistent.” That’s something that has never left me. Very little in life is actually accomplished by raw talent or some divine gift from the heavens. It’s because you decided you wanted something, and you relentlessly pursued it until it happened. Let your dream drive you, and just freaking don’t stop until you get it done- whatever happens, I guarantee the landscape of your life will look a whole lot more interesting than if you’d never tried.